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By Alex Kuhn
Sports Editor 

Hear me out...'17 Warriors vs. '96 Bulls


July 4, 2017


Michael Jordan

By Alex Kuhn

Sports Editor

It's time to answer the age-old question, the one that's been asked ever since Michael Jordan retired, well, for the second time. Would (X) team beat Jordan's '96 Bulls, who are considered the best team in NBA history after they set a then record by finishing 72-10 in the regular season; then went on to win their second straight NBA Championship over the Seattle Sonics 4-2.

This year's challengers are the '17 Golden State Warriors, the newly minted champs led by Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry.

By the end of this column we're going to figure out who would win a seven-game series. And this isn't going to be like when Hollywood has King Kong vs. Godzilla or Alien vs. Predator duke it out, only for there to be a wildly unsatisfying tie at the end of 90-minutes.

There's going to be a definitive winner by the end of this.

Before breaking down the matchup a few quick ground rules, both teams played in vastly different eras with different rules. The Bulls played in the era of isolation-ball, physical defense and rules that made it tough to play help-defense; the Warriors are in the space and pace era and rules that opened up the game. Rather than deciding one set of rules for the entire series the home team will play by their era's rules.

The team that will get home court advantage is easy, the Bulls. Just like it would be in any other playoffs the team with the best regular season record gets the nod. The Bulls were 72-10 while the Warriors were 67-15.

Now on to the fun stuff.

Roster Breakdown


Warriors: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Zaza Pachulia

Bulls: Ron Harper, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Luc Longley

The Warriors have three starters averaging 20-plus points per game, (Thompson 22.3, Curry 25.3, Durrant 25.1), while the Bulls have only two in double figures (Jordan 30.4 and Pippen 19.4). While the Warriors have the edge offensively the Bulls have the edge defensively. Everyone knows how terrifying Jordan, Pippen and Rodman were as defenders but Harper was no slouch. At 6'6" Harper could guard through the 1-3, and along with Jordan, Pippen and Rodman they were a fierce quad that could play long stretches of suffocating defense.

I like defense and with the Bulls having four tough defenders I'm going to give the Bulls the slight edge here. That's not to say the Warriors are bad, they aren't they've been a top defense in the league for some time. But they lack the high-end defenders the Bulls have.

Who has the edge: Bulls, slightly.


Warriors: Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Patrick McCaw, David West, JaVale McGee, Ian Clark

Bulls: Steve Kerr (player), Toni Kukoc, Bill Wennington

Yeah, this is an easy one, the Warriors have the superior bench. Iguodala, Livingston and West alone are a better reserve three than the Bulls. All three are incredibly savvy vets who know their game, the game as well as anyone and know when to pick their spots to do the most damage. Then you add feast-or famine-players like McGee and Clark and the surprisingly solid McCaw, and it's not even close.

Who has the edge: The Warriors, by a wide margin.

Coaching Breakdown

Phil Jackson vs. Steve Kerr (coach)

Jackson has 11 championship rings as a coach, six with the Bulls and five with the Lakers, the most in NBA history by a coach. His nickname is the "Zen Master," for his ability to manage the egos of his players and getting the most out of them. There's no denying Jackson's numbers or what his legacy is to the league, but for this series will require tactical moves, and as a tactician Jackson was quite average. 

There'd be glimpses of Jackson's lack of tactics during the Lakers '04 Finals loss to the Pistons or during his second stint with the Lakers as the game began to shift to the small ball/space and pace era. But it became most notable when he began running the Knicks. Jackson wanted to build a team that solely ran the triangle offense in an era that doesn't really merit it.

Teams like the Warriors and Spurs have incorporated elements of the triangle, mostly for the spacing, but they do not run it exclusively. And despite the mountain of evidence that the triangle doesn't work in this era Jackson kept forcing it on his coaches and players.

A good tactician will make the necessary adjustments regardless of their personal feelings. Look at Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who is the greatest coach in basketball history. Pop hates, hates, the 3-point line. He's been on record hammering the 3-point shot and how it has ruined the game. Does this mean he tells his players not to shoot 3s because he doesn't like them? Hell no, Pop is no fool, the Spurs are often in the top 5 of the league in attempted 3s. He knows that critical lesson, which shouldn't be that critical, that 3>2. He's always looking for the edge and is willing to make any adjustment necessary.

You can't say that for Jackson. I can't remember if it was in an interview or in his latest book, but he basically said that the NBA corner 3-pointer is a bad shot. In the NBA, the corner 3-point line is 21 inches closer to the basket than the arc. Even though Pop figured this out at the turn of the century and was successful with it, Jackson still believed it was a bad shot and tried to shy his team away from taking it.

So a shot that was worth more and made at a high rate than most long 2-pointers Jackson believed was a bad shot. Again, Jackson knows how to get in the heads of his players but as far as moving the pieces on the board he falls short.

Kerr on the other hand is a good coach and someone that's capable of moving the pieces on the board and effectively countering. Kerr may not be the guy who develops groundbreaking schemes but he knows how to implement the best schemes for his team, or know what lineups to role with. He stumbled upon the small ball line up with Green at the 5 and accepted it with open arms and found a way to make it work.

Who has the edge: The Warriors.


This was the best part of this column. Figuring out who would guard who. There were so many options and fun subplots and these are the best ones I came up with.

Green on Rodman

Entertaining matchup not only for basketball reasons but for the trash-talking as well. Also there'd be the added bonus of who would collect the most technicals for the series. Offensively, Green has the edge, he has range, good in the pick and roll and is the better passer. Defensively, both guys are beasts and can guard every position on the floor. But I'm going to give the edge to Rodman for his relentlessness on the boards.

Thompson/Green/Durant/Iguodala on Jordan

Thompson often takes the best perimeter and Jordan, obviously, fits that bill. Thompson would guard Jordan for the bulk of his minutes, but the Warriors could also throw a combo of Green, Durant and Iguodala at him as well. By no means will this stop Jordan but each defender brings something unique to the table. Green would be perfect when they're battling in the '90s era rules, Durant's length would help during in today's era and Iggy would be solid in either era.

At this point in his career Jordan perfected his post game and was taking more jumpers. He would have to be quicker at getting his shot off due to the Warriors excellent help-defense. Help-defense, and defense in general, during his time was not like it is today. With the rules it was harder for teams to shade, trap or help like it is in today's game. You often had a lot of one-one-one matchups and guys left out on islands.

Pippen/Rodman on Durant

The Bulls have Jordan as their un-guardable matchup and the Warriors have theirs in Durant. The Bulls never faced a player like Durant with his height, shooting touch, ball-skill and overall how-the-hell-did-he-do that-ness. Durant is going to end up being one of the best forwards in NBA history and the Bulls would just have to let him score his points. Pippen and Rodman could be physical enough to throw him off some, but as he's shown getting rough with him doesn't work like it used to.

Harper/Jordan on Curry

Harper would begin on Curry but once Curry started getting hot and shimmying down the court. It would infuriate Jordan and he'd tell Harper to go check Thompson, he's got Curry. It would be a fascinating matchup to watch. At some point Curry would put Jordan in a blender, just like he's done to LeBron and Khawi. And Jordan would be in Curry's chest or as soon as he gave up the ball wouldn't let him have it back. Then there would be the trash-talk, Jordan loved to play mind games and would go right at a player to break them down. If you need evidence of this Google how Jordan turned Clyde Drexler into a husk after the '92 Finals.


The Bulls never played a team as quick and efficient as these Warriors. Adding some advance metrics to the mix, the Warriors played at a pace of 99.8 possessions in a 48-minute game and averaged 115.6 points per 100 possessions. During their run through the regular and post seasons the only teams that the Bulls faced with somewhat, and that's a stretch, comparable numbers were the Utah Jazz, Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics. The Jazz (113.3) and Magic (112.9) were in the ball park of the Warriors offensive rating, the Bulls went a combined 9-1 against them, which included a four-game sweep of the Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals.

For the Warriors, they never played against a team like the Bulls who played slow at 99.1 possessions per 48 minutes and a high offensive rating at 115.2. The Jazz are close in pace and the Warriors went 2-1 against them during the regular season then swept them in the second round of the playoffs.

These numbers aren't conclusive to who will win but they do help paint a picture and show us how incredible both teams were during their time.


Now that all the leg work is done, it's time to answer the point of this entire column. Who would win?

In a seven-game series, in which the home team is playing by their era's rules, the Bulls would beat the Warriors in Game 7.

I went in thinking this was going to be an open and shut case but as I started digging around on and going down the YouTube rabbit hole. Figuring this out became a lot tougher than I thought.

All seven games would be highly entertaining and both teams would struggle with the others rules, to start. The Warriors fluid defense would be tougher to execute with it being considered an illegal defense. This opens the door for more iso's and the Bulls would look to get Curry on Jordan more, and the Warriors would have a tough time getting Curry off those Jordan-islands.

The Warriors could do the same thing but with hand checking legal from below the free throw this favors the Bulls.

When the rules switched in favor of the Warriors, the Bulls would also struggle. The more open game would wear them down along with the smothering defense.

Deciding the winner, ultimately, came down to, Jordan and defense. The players on both teams are some of the most competitive human beings on the planet, but Jordan was on another level. He sought out the confrontation with other players, enjoyed getting under their skins and would raise his game to unheard of heights. Even though the Bulls would be outgunned he'd will this team to a win.

I don't say this as a Jordan-zealot who believes it is heresy to say anyone is better. There will be someone better, and it very well may be LeBron when his career is done.

The Bulls defense was incredible, Jordan and Pippen would terrorize backcourts and they'd do the same against the Warriors. Then you factor in Harper and Rodman and they have the ingredients to disrupt the Warriors. The key to beating Golden State is getting them off rhythm by playing physical, but not overly-physical. It's easier said than done but the Bulls have the tools to do so and that's why they'd edge out the Warriors, probably on a Jordan game-winning shot.


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